Part Two – Park News: From Triangle to Tritz
“It’s embarrassing, but I do really appreciate it,” said Howard Tritz during a conversation with Leadville Today (LT) concerning the city leaders’ recent decision to rename the municipal property situated at East 12th Street and Highway 24 from Triangle to Howard Tritz Park. It’s not an unusual response from a man whose life seems to represent the perfect balance of humor and humility.
Of course, as a trusted local news source, history would have to be thrown into the mix as well. As LT turns to Tritz himself for the back story about the park which now bears his name. For many years, it was simply an unkempt triangular piece of land owned by the city, but then an underground accident at the Climax Mine which left a laborer with only one arm would bring the property to life.
“I’d see him out there every day,” Tritz described the one-armed park tender. “I guess it was part of his therapy in recovering from that accident.” That man was Kenny Jackson and for Leadville long-timers, memories of the hours, days, and weeks Jackson worked that triangular piece of land into what would become known informally as Triangle Park was not forgotten, especially by Tritz.
“I always thought they should name that park after Kenny, after all the work he put into it,” recalled Tritz on his efforts to do so. “But nobody seemed interested at the time and it never went anywhere.”
The park came back into the spotlight when the Mineral Belt Trail (MBT) plans began in the late 1990s. While the area never truly developed into a heavily-used stop-point for MBT users, it did provide a simple tree-lined park with a BBQ grill and picnic table. Still, Tritz hopes that the plaque for the new park – which now bears his name – will include not only Jackson’s name but a host of other people who worked tirelessly to establish the MBT, which provides the third side to the triangular piece of land. The re-dedication plaque is expected to be erected sometime this fall and seems appropriate considering the thousands of hours and years of planning and dedication that Tritz committed to seeing the MBT come to fruition. READ that story in Tritz’s own words HERE.
For the sake of continuing with Tritz’s tale (Part One), the next scene opens at the Lake County Courthouse, where he served for more than 20 years as Lake County Assessor. Thanks for all your dedication to the community Howard, may all enjoy Howard Tritz Park and the fruits of your labor for many years to come!
The Worst First-Day-on-the-Job
By Kathy Bedell © Leadville Today
It was 1993 and scandal was rocking the Lake County Courthouse, this time at the Assessor’s office. The Leadville attorney and eventual run-away Assessor had ignited a firestorm that would have every Colorado property tax division agency descending on the Lake County office, as audit after audit failed the state standards. Those who lived here during that time, might remember the long line streaming out of the courthouse as a record 3,000 protests were lodged against the Notice of Valuations (NOV) sent out in May of that odd-numbered valuation year. It didn’t take long for Lake County residents to see their property values had been disproportionately inflated, prompting the villagers to light their torches, and head down to the courthouse.
“I remember driving past the courthouse and seeing the long line of people, and thinking, ‘I wonder what’s going on there?’” recalled Howard Tritz in an exclusive interview with Leadville Today.
So when the Lake County Commissioners made the initial phone call to Tritz, inviting him to come down and talk to them about the recently abandoned Assessor’s position, he might have had somewhat of an idea of what he was getting into, after all, he was born and raised here! However, nothing could prepare Tritz for what was about to unfold: his worst first-day-on-the-job!
Much like Leadville’s Unsinkable Molly Brown, Tritz’s iceberg was concealing a much bigger set of problems below the surface, which would merge together into a sizeable storm on his first day on the job: June 19, 1993. Twelve people from the state were camped out at the Assessor’s office when Tritz first arrived. After the record number of protests, the state brought in a clean-up team, along with some bad news. Lake County had failed ALL of the different property valuation classifications in the audit. They flunked them all: residential, vacant land, agricultural, natural resources, mining, AND commercial.
“It was good training, to come in and get your ass kicked right off the bat,” said Tritz. “You’re definitely going to learn from that experience.”
But in true Leadville fashion, that wasn’t the only drama unfolding that day. Just as Tritz got the state people settled in, the Denver media showed up, TV cameras and all. But it wasn’t the failed audit that brought up the Front Range media, but rather a gruesome murder at a top law firm in San Francisco. The gunman, who took 8 lives and wounded six in California, was a John Ferri, who was taking vengeance after a bad business deal, which happened to include some Lake County property. The reporters wanted to know where the property was located, so they could go and roll some film, for the Colorado angle to the story. LINK
“I came in here really not knowing what I was getting into,” said Tritz about his worst first-day-on-the-job as Lake County Assessor. “But, I never even thought about walking away.” And while the tongue-in-cheek Oath of Office that the Board of County Commissioners jokingly required “Coward Fritz” to sign that first day on the job, may have helped during some of the trials, in the end it comes down to personal integrity. And so, like gold, refined in the heat of a fire, Tritz turned that first day into a solid 20+ years working relationship with the state folks and re-established trust to the Assessor’s office for Lake County residents.
Believe it or not, sandwiched in between his Leadville childhood and decades of civil service, Howard Tritz also worked at the Climax Mine for about 30 years, starting in 1961 as a laborer in the mill. Tritz would eventually work his way up to Mill Superintendent, until the mine finally laid everyone off, and went into “fire watch” status in the early 1990s.
Since his retirement in 2015, Tritz has stayed busier than ever with a variety of projects, most of which include wood. A woodcrafter since high school, including the few years he owned and operated Matchless Woodcrafters, a custom cabinet-making business, Howard’s projects include framing the historic pictures that line the courthouse hallway. He calls it his Labor of Love. Then, there’s the oversized Sixth Street Gym historic photo, which he created a frame with some of the old gym flooring. Now at 83, things have slowed down a bit and a heredity heart issue has Tritz monitoring his activities a bit more, but you can still see his smiling face all about Leadville Today.
“I have enjoyed it all,” stated Tritz, sharing too many tales to include in this two-part story. But should you want to hear some of them yourself, get in touch with Tritz and ask him to meet you at the newly dedicated park at the corner of Highway 24 and E. 12th Street: Howard Tritz Park.